Where to get your mobile meals

Vaccinations are rolling out, the winds are warming up, and most importantly, the downtown food carts are starting to emerge from their hibernation. Could this be nature’s healing? Or do Madisonians simply have an insatiable craving for top-notch bites served in a moving vehicle? We’d bet on the latter, but either way, there are stands to snack on every cuisine imaginable here in Madison. Here are some of the food carts we’re most excited about, new and old, that have opened their windows and fired up their flat grills for an exciting 2021 season.

Common pasta: Under new ownership, mac’n’cheese mainstay Common Pasta is back to serve Madison’s lunch crowd. “We extrude all of our pasta by hand, which means mixing the pasta and shaping the noodles. The pasta is always fresh, never frozen or dried,” explains owner Jon Rosnow. “This process leaves us with a noodle that’s al dente and has a nice chew.” Rosnow says her favorite part of having a mobile dining experience is the fast workday. “There are so many details to deal with on a day-to-day basis that it really keeps you on your toes,” he says. “Making the pasta, baking the bread, loading the food cart with take-out containers, making sure the generators have gas, interacting with guests…the list could go on.” Capitol Square near East Main Street: MF

Costa Rican coffee: Latin soul cooking is just a hop, skip and a jump depending on the day with Caribbean cuisine by Chef Thony Clarke, or “Mango Man,” who is behind Cafe Costa Rica. Homemade salsa is sold by the container for a reason and goes well with any food prepared on the truck. Library Mall: M, T, W, F, Dane County Farmer’s Market

Surco: Surco has been serving Peruvian cuisine on campus since 2011, and its meals certainly stand the test of time. While meats steal the show on many Surco plates, the tacu tacu – a bean and rice cake topped with avocado, passion fruit and ocopa (black mint) sauce – is a must-have both vegan and gluten free. Library Mall, corner of West Main Street and Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard, MF

Empanadas from Caracas: If you love fried delicacies, your next culinary experience could be sweet or savory empanadas. Caracas Empanadas makes these turnovers with all kinds of toppings, from your typical beef and cheese to a Saturday breakfast option. 25 Main St. W., MF, S 9:30 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Umami buns: An offshoot of the brick-and-mortar Umami Ramen & Dumpling Bar, Umami Buns is moving downtown and to festival events throughout the summer. Its menu may seem simple, but the stuffed bun combinations cover a lot of ground. Pork belly, Korean barbecue beef, spicy pulled pork and tofu (two ways) are served with pickled vegetables and assorted sauces and chutneys to tie it all together. Library Mall: MF, Dane County Farmers’ Market: S, on North Carroll Street near State Street

Saigon Sandwich: Baguette and bánh mì seem to inherently go together, and Saigon Sandwich’s iconic Vietnamese sandwich proves it in the most delicious way possible. Cucumbers, spicy jalapeños, fresh cilantro, and sweet carrots marry the meats together to create a beautiful (and photo-worthy) chicken and pork sandwich. Corner of West Johnson and North Charter Streets, MF

Other licensed carts you’ll see around town this season:
Banzo: Brasserie Karben4, F from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. for “falafel Fridays”
Braisin’ Hussies: TF Capitol Square near King Street, Dane County Farmers Market near the intersection of State, Mifflin and Carroll
Bulgogi Korean Burrito: Library Mall, MF
Buraka: Library Mall
El Burrito Loco: MF, Capitol Square near Martin Luther King Jr Boulevard.
Caracas Arepas: MS, Library Mall
China Cottage: MF, Capitol Square near Mifflin Street
Curd Girl: various places, catering
Curt’s Popcorn: Capitol Square near Martin Luther King Jr Boulevard.
Cool cold drinks: MF, Library Mall
El Grito Taqueria: Regent Market Co-Op, MT, catering
Hibachi Hut: MF, Library Mall
Holy Cow: Various locations
Jolly Frog: Pop-ups, events
Kakilima: MF, Library Mall
Little Tibet: MS, Library Mall
LT’s Aloha Wagon: various locations
Luang Prabang: MF, Library Mall
Marimar on Wheels: South Park Street
Nani food cart: MF, UW campus
Nani Restaurant: MF, Grainger Hall, Memorial Library, Union South
Natural juice: MF, Library Mall
Pancho’s Tacos: various locations
Pete’s Pops: events, festivals, catering
Sista’s Chicken and Fish: Various Locations
SoHo: events, catering
Taiwan Little Eats: UW Campus
Taste of Jamaica: Pop-ups, catering
Tavernakaya: Capitol Square near East Main Street, S,M,W,Th
Teriyaki Samurai: Capitol Square near East Main Street, MF
Thai-riffic: Library Mall
Toast: Library Mall, events, catering
Ugly Apple Cafe: Capitol Square near East Main Street W, F, Dane County Farmers’ Market at top of State Street, Monroe Street Farmers’ Market
El Wiscorian: UW Campus